Political pop star M.I.A set off a storm of controversy Thursday by appearing to criticize Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar for using their platforms to promote the Black Lives Matter movement to the exclusion of other movements.
Responding to a question from The Evening Standard on how she felt about Beyoncé’s Black Panthers-themed Superbowl performance, she lamented the fact that, in her opinion, American musicians are confined to certain topics when making political statements on large platforms:
“It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say ‘Muslim Lives Matter?’ Or ‘Syrian Lives Matter?’ Or ‘this kid in Pakistan matters?’ That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV program, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.’
Naturally, her words set off a storm of tweets from people accusing her of disrespecting Black Lives Matter, Kendrick, and most importantly, Beyoncé.
Some people thought she was implying that “black” and “Muslim” are two separate categories of people:
I’m going to guess that M.I.A. knows there are black Muslims, but the majority of people currently being killed by U.S. bombs — a related but separate issue — are Middle-Eastern Muslims, so she probably thought the distinction was self-evident.
Others took umbrage at her implication that Black Lives Matter is in any way a mainstream cause when America is still so racist towards black people:
Yet more were offended by her implication that black celebrities who choose to focus on Black Lives Matter are not doing enough for oppressed people around the world, which: Fair enough.
And a few took her criticism of mainstream celebrity expression as criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement (which, to be fair to M.I.A., I do not believe she intended, although she did kinda make it sound like she thought BLM was old news):
The singer has since walked back her statement, saying she meant only to criticize what celebrities are and aren’t allowed to say on mainstream American platforms, not BLM or the celebrities themselves:
As many have noted, this “clarification” seems a tad disingenuous because M.I.A. knows very well what you can say on American platforms. Or has she already forgotten about her self-directed video highlighting the global refugee crisis that she released exclusively on Apple Music?
This goes without saying, but musicians’ main job is music. If they happen to say something politically relevant or awareness-raising, that’s just icing on the cake. Conversely, people should not act like Beyoncé is Angela Davis any time she wears a vaguely subversive outfit. If M.I.A. wants more people to talk about the Syrian refugee crisis, she should continue to spread the word. But if M.I.A. doesn’t want to be the next Azealia Banks, she should stop telling other pop stars which issues to highlight in their Superbowl halftime shows.
[h/t Pitchfork | Photo: Getty]